Wicked Local (Medfield
Posted Oct 23, 2012 @ 11:12 AM
By Amy Gehrt
GateHouse News Service
A new child sex-abuse scandal has surfaced, putting the reputation of yet another storied institution on the line.
The Boy Scouts of America’s so-called “perversion files” — 14,500 pages of secret Scout documents — were released Thursday on orders from the Oregon Supreme Court. The files reveal an alarming abuse of trust perpetrated against American families all across the country — particularly the young victims who were entrusted to the Scouts’ care.
That such crimes took place is bad enough, but the fact that authorities and BSA officials participated in a decades-long cover-up essentially gave thousands of leaders and volunteers permission to continue victimizing children. Yet, as with the pedophilia problems that plagued the Catholic Church and Penn State, it seems that people in positions of power again decided it was more important to preserve an organization’s reputation than to protect innocent kids.
The files are posted on the website of Portland attorney Kelly Clark, who used them as evidence against the Scouts in a lawsuit in 2010 — opening the door for their public release.
“It’s kind of a deal. The deal is, our society will give you incredible status and respect, Norman Rockwell will paint pictures of you, and in exchange for that, you take care of our kids,” Clark said during a news conference Oct. 18. “That’s the deal, incredible respect and privilege. But there was a worm in the apple.”
Scout leaders weren’t the only worms in the apple, however. According to the Scouts, in about one-third of the incidents police were not informed of the abuse allegations … but two-thirds of the files did involve local law enforcement.
Take, for instance, a Louisiana mother who went to her local sheriff’s department to lodge a complaint against a scoutmaster who had raped one of her three sons, and molested the other two.
During a subsequent interview with police, the 31-year-old confessed, saying, “I don’t know how to tell it. They just occurred — I don’t know an explanation, why we done it or I done it or wanted to do it or anything else it just — an impulse I guess or something.”
One would think confessing to raping one child and molesting two more — to police, no less — would be a one-way ticket to prison. Yet the man wasn’t even charged.
The reason? According to the Associated Press, a Louisiana BSA executive offered this explanation in a confidential letter he wrote to the Scouts’ national personnel division: “This subject and Scouts were not prosecuted, to save the name of Scouting.”
Countless cases detail the same thing. Despite a preponderance of proof — often in the form of confessions — police officials, prosecutors, pastors and BSA officials stepped in or pulled strings to prevent the organization’s name from being tarnished.
Wayne Perry, president of BSA, issued a statement one day ahead of the public release of the perversion files.
“Where those involved in Scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families,” he said. “While it is difficult to understand or explain individuals’ actions from many decades ago, today Scouting is a leader among youth-serving organizations in preventing child abuse.”
Granted, the vast majority of the files released detail abuse allegations between 1959 and 1985, but Clark is calling for a congressional investigation based on more recent reports of abuse. He also called on the BSA to release its post-1985 files, something a Texas judge ordered the organization to do on Oct. 4. The BSA has said it is reviewing all of its files to make sure it has reported “all good-faith suspicion of abuse” to police, but it is expected to appeal the court order.
“One of the questions we have for the Boy Scouts is, if the policy (on child abuse prevention) is so good, why is still happening?” Clark said. “We don’t, for example, see a Catholic priest being arrested once a week, once a month, anymore.”
Clark has a good point. If the organization is so confident its conduct is now beyond reproach, then making all of its records public should be no problem. And if any young boys are still at risk, then don’t those communities have a right to know that a possible pedophile could be lurking in their midst, spending time with their children?
I realize the Boy Scouts of America has spent more than a century building its brand, and it’s human nature to want to preserve that legacy. But when it comes to the safety of children, protecting them should be an organization’s sole priority.
And, as David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told the AP, failure to do so should have consequences if we truly want to end these shameful cover-ups once and for all.
“The Scouts have got to expose, list and severely punish every former employee or volunteer who ignored or concealed child sex crimes,” Clohessy said. “Nothing will have a quicker and more long-lasting impact of changing the culture of recklessness and secrecy.”
Amy Gehrt may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the newspaper.